Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Learning from the Past, Looking toward the Future

A little more than a week ago, I announced that I would be leaving Arena Stage to lead the marketing and membership efforts at the Smithsonian Associates at the end of March. I've been overwhelmed by the kind words and best wishes sent my way. For that, I am very grateful.

Some have also asked if I plan to continue blogging. As you may have noticed over the years, my blog covers topics that I am passionate about, often times motivated by current trends and experiences. As I move from a performing arts organization to a museum and research institution, undoubtedly my perspective will evolve over time. However, I hope to continue to contribute to online dialogue and debate.

My four-and-a-half years at Arena Stage have been the most rewarding and exhausting of my career. When one decides to pursue a career in a field they love, like many theater artists I know, these two adjectives are not mutually exclusive; in fact, many would argue that you can't have one without the other. When joining Arena Stage, I knew there were very few precedents for what we needed to accomplish, and with the opening of the Mead Center and a 2.5 year transition ahead of us, a clear path wasn't always available. It was an opportunity that intimidated me, but I knew that I would get an education of a lifetime.

In looking back, I've learned quite a bit along the way...
  • Always give an "exclusive" to your best and most loyal customers. Trust me, if they read something important in the daily paper before they hear it from you, they won't feel like part of the family.
  • Customer service can be a significant competitive advantage. When the whole world has come to expect awful customer service, it creates an easy opportunity to shine.
  • When hiring, if you have to pick between the two, a "fire in the belly" always trumps experience. One can teach skills, but one cannot be taught to take pride in their work.
  • Resources are an investment--monitor and expect returns. Marketing directors have two primary resources: human and financial capital. Where and when to invest each is a critical decision. When budgets are tight, monitor cost of sale and make data driven investments rather than emotionally driven ones.
  • Decisiveness is critical. Leap or die. Would you rather sip champagne and listen to the violins on the Titanic, or slap on a life vest and jump into the unknown? The unknown may be scary, but the known isn't an option. A delay in decision-making will almost always be costly, as it is rare for circumstances to change, but options will diminish. The non-profit theater landscape in the United States is changing rapidly, and adjustments must be made.
  • Maximize successes to mitigate risks. Unless you present nothing but bankable commercial successes, risks are inherent in the theater. When you catch a break, ride it for all that it's worth in order to mitigate the risk that is right around the corner.
  • Looking for improvements? Track results. By tracking, you send a signal to the company that something is important. Important enough to monitor. By not tracking, you send an equally powerful signal that something isn't worth the effort. Know your vital statistics, and track them aggressively.
  • Marketers are masters of perception, not reality. Unless you are talking about financials, marketers should keep their attention on perception. Perception, as we know, is reality for most.
  • Subscriptions aren't dying, theaters are killing them. If patrons can get great seats at a significant discount at the last minute, the value proposition of a subscription doesn't exist. Best seats at the best prices = more subscriptions (as long as the product is good).
  • Develop a strong team, and hire to your weaknesses. Major accomplishments are always a team effort. Honestly assess yourself, recognize your weaknesses, and hire people that are better than you in areas where you need improvement.
  • Comp tickets are disrespectful. There are a few good reasons to give a comp here or there, but nothing devalues the work of an organization or artists more than giving away free tickets. Why do we expect society to value the arts if we don't?
  • Make decisions for tomorrow instead of today. Often times we are faced with decisions that could result in a short term gain, but a long term loss. Unless you are in desperate times, always set yourself up for a better tomorrow, even if it makes a more difficult today.
  • Take a Pavlovian approach to discounting. Use discounting as a means to encourage desired behavior. Want people to purchase early? Avoid late discounts whenever possible.
  • Marketing and Development are two sides of the same coin. Look at revenue generation as a team with the goal of raising the most revenue at the least cost. Consolidate resources, eliminate redundancies, invest in campaigns that perform the best across the departmental divide, and look at your customers holistically with an eye toward building loyalty and lifetime value.
I will always remember my time at Arena Stage fondly, and am thankful for the education I received.

Looking forward to catching a performance in the near future--this time though as an audience member (and yes, I will buy my tickets).

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